Saturday, August 17, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW -JOBS "A Visual Powerpoint"

Ashton Kutcher killed it in the biopic Jobs! He got the walk down. He got the talk down. He got the ticks and fidgets of a deeply wounded man down. But this movie is not worth the price of viewing. Ashton's parts should be taken and made into re-enactments for a documentary about the evolution of the Apple computer.

Steve Jobs was a lot of things to a lot of people. As a loyal Apple user I wanted to understand this enigma of a man. I wanted to spend 2 hours understanding his genius, contemplating his philosophy, comprehending his demons. Unfortunately, the screenwriter failed to bring me this side of the story. I can't even call it a story because there was none. Jobs suffers from a debilitating lack of character motivation. The writer never bothered to answer the question "Why?" in any of the scenes and scenarios of a recent history we're all expected to know. The movie presented itself like a glossy visual PowerPoint with bullet points as the dialogue.

Take the beginning. There are three of them. We fade from black to see Steve Jobs introducing the device that did in fact revolutionize society as we know it: the iPod. This fantastic scene never, ever, comes back into the 2 hour story. Then there's a scene with Steve bare-footing around Reed college where he's dropped out but still goes to philosophy and calligraphy class and gives freelove to random co-eds never hiding the fact that he has a girlfriend. If you know some of Jobs' story, you know that calligraphy inspired him in the digital world, but that point never comes up again in the 2 hour story. And finally, there's a third attempt at exposition where we meet Woz, Steve's right hand man. Woz helps Steve solve an engineering problem and the two decide to build a personal computer for the everyday man or woman. This is really where the story starts. But by then I was already wary.

The problem is, from there until 2 hours later, the movie becomes a documentary about the evolution of early Apple products. We see the Apple, the Apple II, the Lisa, the Macintosh. We hear a lot of technical jargon that went right over my head so I couldn't appreciate the complexity and beauty of what was doin' on the screen. I think the writer didn't consider that lay people outside of Cupertino, CA were coming to see this movie. There were too many facts and not close to enough emotion or connecting drama.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had a Kirk and Spock type of relationship where they fueled each other to explore brave, new worlds where no one even dared dream were possible. There are attempts -brittle attempts- at exploring this relationship. But it fell so short. Watching the scenes between Ashton Kutcher's Jobs and Josh Gad's Woz you feel them delivering a performance that makes you lean forward. There are these pregnant pauses, these deep, penetrating glances and glares, these witty battles of wits between the two actors. But they just weren't given the words to say.

The same can be said for every character that revolved around Jobs from the rest of the founders of Apple who were cheated of their company bonds after bleeding in the Jobs' family garage to Jobs' issues with his adoption and his own absentee parenting which they glanced over. All of the elements of a great story were there. But the writer never went there.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: Epic Heroine! "Epic"

"Epic" is the typical tale of young girl gets pulled into a mythical, magical world, finds a set of cajones she never knew she had, and steps up to save the world alongside a rebellious hero type of film. It was textbook, and I don't say that in a mean way -I teach out of textbooks after all. What stood out for me was the portrayal of Queen Tara as played by Beyonce Knowles Carter.

Beyonce (as Tara) was on screen, via her voice, for maybe fifteen minutes or twenty minutes. Her mocha-colored skin coupled with her barely cleaned up Texas-ebonic drawl absolutely delighted me! Unlike the main heroine, M.K. who was thrust into a brave, green world and had to learn the rules fast, Queen Tara existed in this world and its rules; rules that she could create, bend, and stretch. Still being the most powerful being in matriarchal world, the secret lands of Moonhaven held a hint of the male-dominated chauvinism.

What delighted me about Tara, and the sass Beyonce lent to this character, was that this Queen was the perfect balance of I Can Do This Myself and Can You Fellas Give Me A Hand With This. Taking a nod from her true husband, Beyonce as Tara brushes this sad truth off her shoulders with easy smiles and zen-like quips. Tara has the power to take any of her guard down with a flick of her magical wrist but she always identified and admitted when a situation was too much for her. Perfect role model; not just for my daughter but for me too!

I found myself hoping that my daughter ignored the scripted heroine of this tale, M.K., who started off clueless, then puffed out her chest in mock-bravery upon entering Moonhaven and soon rushed in foolhardy to situations that she couldn't handle which inevitably gave the rebel without a cause hero, Nod, something to do. Textbook trope that needs to be updated. But then you see the irony that it was. In this very film!

Ignore those crazy kids. There's another love story afoot! It's so subtle this other love story that I think only the adults understood that a little sumthin' sumthin' was going on behind the trees. The chemistry between Queen Tara and her Captain of the Leaf Guard, Ronin played by Colin Farrel, was palatable and tear-jerky. Their unsaid romance stayed with me after the film. It was perfection! It was epic.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Three's A Crowd Pleaser -"The Queen's Consorts"

The Queen's Consorts by Kele Moon"The Queen's Consorts" Author: Kele Moon
Three's a Crowd-Pleaser by Nakeesha J. Seneb

I didn't think it was possible. I didn't think you could have a plausible menage romance that was engaging and believable. I read menage stories under the covers in the darkness of night with no expectations of craftiness, character development, or a plot that makes sense. It's literary porn, after all. Kele Moon has put all erotica authors on notice. She has elevated the game with "The Queen's Consorts," a PNR set in another world that features a true, blue romance between one woman and two men who all are desperately in love with each other.

Its starts off with fantastic world-building that weaves the rules of a world where women are so scarce they are worshiped by men as gifts from the gods. Because males are in abundance, the custom is that two men form life-bond partnerships with each other and then seek out a female. This world is ruled by a queen who, for all intents and purposes, is Mother Nature. Her being is so tied into the spirit of the planet that when she cries tears of sorrow it rains and when she cries tears of joy rainbows appear. Moon weaves this mythology from the first page on through the epilogue, and it made me a believer of this fantastical tale.

Moon introduces the rules of the world immediately by telling us about the laws, for example flowers and any vegetation can only grow in green houses with artificial lights and its illegal to harm a woman's body, punishable by death. Then Moon shows the consequences when the rules are challenged. When we open, the world has gone dark and barren because the new queen has been missing for nearly twenty years. We open on Sari, who we soon learn is that long lost queen. After a brutal attack by street males, Sari is rescued by the Captain of the Queen's Guard. The males who attacked her are thrown into the dungeon to die. Sari is taken to the palace where she is tended to by the lifemates intended for the long lost queen: Taryen and Calder. Moon then takes a moment to show you the deep, palpable love these two tortured (literally!) males have for each other, and their confusion over their instant attraction to Sari. Tons of intrigue, political maneuvering, and some cringe-worthy abuse unfold in the middle of this book, but what kept me turning the page was watching two men (who're evidently in love with each other) fall for this women, and vice versa...vice. I mean, sure, read it for the sex scenes because Moon does not disappoint! But stay for the romance that unfolds because it is truly something to behold.

One thing I've noticed about Moon's writing is that she has this amazing ability to write supporting characters in a way that doesn't overpower the main characters, but still makes you want to get to know them better. I was totally captivated by the "true heart" Kayla and her Romeo-Juliet-Mercutio romance. Please, please, please do a novella about the beginning of this amazing love story that we only got glimpses of. I'm also hoping little Aria grows up and gets her own story -with yellow flowers, a yellow dress and lifemates who come to adore her as I did. Please, please, please Ms. Moon. Please revisit this world in another work. Your mythology was too good for a one time trip! 

ARC provided by the author (cause that's how I roll!).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Hero's Journey Plotting System

It occured to me that as I write and gush about the Hero's Journey plotting system that many of you
may not know it. So here it is in full. The Journey was originally developed by mythologist Joseph Campbell, and later adapted for the novelists and the screen by Christopher Vogler in "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters."
The Hero’s Journey

1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
2. They receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
4. Are encouraged by a MENTOR to
5. CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
6. They encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
7. They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
8. Where they endure the ORDEAL
9. They take possession of their REWARD and
10. Are pursued ON THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
11. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the 
12. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World. 
So many films, television shows, and novels use this plotting system. Both Dorothy in the Wizard of
Oz and Oscar Diggs, the eventual wizard, in Oz the Great and Powerful start of in an ordinary world
of black and white. Once the twister lifts them up, up and away to Oz, the scene springs to life in a special world of glorious technicolor. 

Both Oscar and Dorothy share a mentor in Glinda, the Good who directs them on a paved path to fight enemies in the form of winged monkeys. Both ordeals are a matter of inner courage, and both rewards are a home.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Night Hawk -No Talking During Foreplay!

"Night Hawk" Author: Beverly Jenkins
No Talking During Foreplay by Nakeesha J. SenebNight Hawk
Recently, I've begun reading a lot of historical romance novels. And like most people of color, I craved a story that didn't gush over lily white skin and blonde ringlets. So, I was super excited to come across the works of Beverly Jenkins, an African-American novelist who writes historical romance about black folks just on the other side of slavery. After reading some reviews on Amazon, it appeared that "Night Hawk" was the hands down favorite. So I bought it and got cozy.

"Night Hawk" is the story of lawyer, turned criminal, turned bounty hunter, appointed US Marshall, who likes to quote scripture, Ian Vance. The story takes place after Ian returns from his birthplace of Scotland to pay respects to his dead mother. On the train ride home, he encounters a bound Maggie Freeman who's been accused of murder. Through a series of events, Maggie is left in Ian's custody by another lawman with directions to transport her to another town which happens to be on Ian's way home. More events happen that bring them closer together and before you know it, they've fallen in love.

I really liked the romance portion of the story. If only it were just a romance, but it was more than that. It was a month of history lessons inside an epic novel. The history lessons were as annoying as they were intriguing. The reader was introduced to a number of black historical figures and events. And as a black woman and an educator, I constantly feel the need to educate in everything I create. However its such a fine balance and the story can easily be compromised. Each time Jenkins inserted these fun facts into the novel, they interrupted the flow of the love story. It was a weird tug of war. I have no clue how this could have been made more palatable, and maybe I'm the only one who didn't appreciate it because the book gets tons of stars from everyone who reads it.

The first 50% of the novel is a historical romance with a time span of two weeks. In the second half, we watched the MCs settle into their domestic bliss with one last hurdle to overcome at the very, very end. The change in pace, scope, and motivation rankled me and I was not sure what to think anymore.
If I just rated the first 50% it'd be a 4-star because the romance was really lovely. The second half would be 2 stars with all the history lessons and pace changing. So, I settled on three.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Hero of My Heart -A Bad BM

 Hero of My Heart: A Loveswept Historical Romance"Hero of My Heart" Author Megan Frampton
A Bad BM by Nakeesha J. Seneb

I really liked the idea of these two characters. Vicar's daughter in need of rescuing plus opium addict Marquis in need of some saving himself. The recovering addict behavior was at times intriguing and page-turning, and at other times conveniently pushed aside for the love arc plotting.

This entire work happened in real time: first from the hero's perspective and then the heroine's. If they were apart for any reason, the author would go back and retell it from the other's POV. It was quite unexpected. And my fear came true -the ending was super rushed.

In revision, writers are often advised to employ a Seek and Destroy Word List. Frampton continually used certain words over and over and over again and I soon began anticipating their arrival. Ignoring this rule caused me to start skimming.

That aside, my biggest issue with this book was the "big misunderstanding." I hate BMs -get it: bowel movements! They so often seem unnecessary and stupid. But they are a staple of this genre that I love so much. Writing-World dot com's Anne Marble agrees with me that most big understanding's are silly or SBMP (Silly Big Misunderstanding Plots). According to Marble, the first signs of a SBMP is the absence of logic. If the characters appear forced in their actions; or you realize a simple 60-second conversation would clear matters up; or the case of mistaken identity goes on for pages too long, well then you might be in the middle of a BM!

Mary and Alasdaire's BM was believable -in the beginning. Alasdaire was aiming to commit suicide by opium overdose because everyone he ever loved died. Mary, who lately discovered she was illegitimate, feels unlovable and wants to slink away off the grid of society. They were two very damaged characters, but by working together they conquered so many of their literal and figurative demons by finding each other, learning to trust and depend on each other, and having each others backs against all enemies. By 50% of the eBook I thought the BM got cleared up. Frampton even started raising the stakes, which kept me turning the pages. But the main characters were still hanging on to their SBMPs. I was befuddled. And then, literally, in the last two lines of the work they finally "got it," reminding me that big misunderstandings are often messy and smelly!

ARC provided by Netgalley.

Monday, February 11, 2013

MOVIE: Clueless -A Breakdown of Faith

Emma, author Jane Austen & Clueless, screenwriter Amy Heckerling
"A Breakdown of Faith" by Nakeesha J. Seneb

My favorite rule about adaptations is that: you owe nothing to the original work. This is the first rule of adaptations as told by Richard Krevolin, author of "How to Adapt Anything Into a Screenplay." In his book, Krevolin presents a case study of the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Its a great case study! Some fans argued that the movie was too faithful; others that it left too much of the original work out. Krevolin does a brilliant job of breaking the book and film down, and I don't want to repeat his arguments here. Instead, I want to focus on one of my favorite adaptations, Clueless based on the book "Emma" by Jane Austen. 

The story of Emma is virtually unrecognizable in this telling. Screenwriter, Amy Heckerling, was nearly faithless in her rendition of this classic, oft told tale.
Jane Austen's story of a privileged 20 year old in Regency England is transplanted into the persona of a 16-year old, teenaged girl in modern day California. Along with the setting and time period, the title character's name is also updated. Cher is naïve and caught up in a superficial lifestyle revolving around expensive clothes and the social hierarchy  of her high school. Her father is no longer an aging hypochondriac, but a high-powered, ruthless lawyer. There's no knightly next door neighbor with an eye on our heroine. Instead its an ex-brother-in-law, who's a liberal college freshman with dreams of saving the world. His name's Josh.

Krevolin's next guideline is to "seek out the scenes that can be removed without having a domino effect on the rest of the story." If you've read the book Emma or you've seen the Gwyneth Paltrow redub, you might remember the whole subplot of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. In these versions, while taking a break from setting everyone up, Emma flirts with Frank who leads her on but he's actually madly in love with Jane. 

Was it 20th century brilliance or what that Amy Heckerling made Frank Churchill's character into a gay rendition of James Dean who just wanted to be BFF's with Cher!. Gone was the Jane Fairfax character and love triangle with Mr. Churchill. Cher's attempts at seduction while the meatloaf burns during Spartacus certainly has the opposite of a domino effect on the rest of the story. It ratcheted up the unpredictability of this updated tale of unrequited love.

Krevolin's next rule is that you don't remove the key thing that made the book amazing. In my opinion, its the love mishaps and love connections that happen because of Emma/Cher's busybody-ness that makes the book and all network and theatrical releases a winner. In Austen's book, it begins with the wedding of Emma's governess with a gentleman Emma matched her with. With this one success under her belt, Emma begins an assault on the poor hearts of her village to disastrous and hilarious effect. In California, Cher starts her matchmaking in response to a bad grade. Although her heart wasn't in the right place at the time, the match works out for everyone involved. With this one success under her belt, Cher begins her assault on the new girl, Tai, to disastrous and hilarious effect.

Krevolin's last edict is that no matter how a story is changed during the course of adaptation, the arc of the characters almost always remains the same.

Both Emma and Cher are know-it-alls at the beginning of their stories. Cher thinks can get her way without really trying hard. She believes she can talk her way into or out of anything.

Cher’s proud of her machinations in the love lives' of others. She's irked when her ex-step-brother, Josh, thinks all her work is for selfish ends. In truth, they are. It takes everything blowing up in her face for Cher to realize that Josh was right. Its all gone wrong because its what she wanted and not what everyone else wanted for themselves. Christian doesn't want to be her boyfriend. Tai doesn't want to date anyone Cher sets her up with. Even Josh, who Cher continually pushes away, only wants to be close to her. Once Cher's stripped bare of everything she realizes she's behaved badly and more importantly that she’s in love with Josh. Once Cher starts selflessly working towards everyone's, including her own, hearts' desire, things turn out as they should.

Faith is a tricky subject when it comes to taking someone else's work and making it your own. Following Krevolin's rules of originality, seeking without destroying, keeping the key things, while maintaining the character arc can get you through adapting a work as short as a newspaper headline or as long as a 500-plus page novel.

Monday, February 4, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: A Most Scandalous Proposal" -an Orgy of Perspectives

A Most Scandalous Proposal. Authored by Ashlyn MacNamara
"An Orgy of Perspectives" by Nakeesha J. Seneb

I really, REALLY enjoyed this story. It had everything that I look for in a romance. A moderately predictable plot with just enough unexpected twists to snap the reader back to attention. Likeable characters who I cared enough about to think about when I had to put down the book and returned to my own life. A satisfying HEA that made me daydream what happened after The End. I just had one problem: there were way too many perspectives going on this book. It suffered from an orgy of perspectives!

From the book "On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells" by Leigh Michaels tells that most romance novels are told with alternating perspectives by the hero and heroine in third person; first person is usually chick lit.

The book blurb of "A Most Sandalous Proposal" told me I was about to read the story of Julia, a young miss gunshy of love after witnessing the ill-affairs of her governess, and Benedict, her bestie bachelor who's reluctant to be amongst the marriage-minded of the ton. Benedict rescues Julia from the clutches of a rake who's all but purchased her from her debt-ridden father. During the "rescue" the two shed their prejudices of love and an HEA blossoms. That was wonderful! But-

As we're reading along inside Julia and Benedict's heads we jump into her sister, Sophia's, head. That threw me because there's no mention of Sophia on the back blurb whatsoever. Sophia is in love with the rake who has his eyes set on Julia. Sophia's stalking the rake at a ball and comes across him in a compromising situation with another woman. What does she do? Swoon, ofcourse. To her rescue comes Rufus, an older gentlemen with a bit of dark scandal in his past. When Rufus is found caring for Sophia alone the two are pushed into an engagement to avoid another scandal. That's when we jump into Rufus' head!

Now, I have to repeat that I really, thoroughly enjoyed this story. But four perspectives overwhelmed me. Macnamara handles the head-juggling well, but it still jarred me each time we'd leave Julia and Benedict's love story for Sophia and Rufus'. And if I'm honest, Sophia and Rufus' story out shined Julia and Benedict's, who were billed via the back blurb as the stars of the show.

ARC courtesy of NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group

Monday, January 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Steam & Sorcery" -Fascinating Characters in a Flat World

"Steam & Sorcery: The Gaslight Chronicales #1". Author Cindy Spencer Pape
Fascinating Characters in a Flat World by Nakeesha Seneb

Steam & Sorcery, the first book in Cindy Spencer Pape's Gaslight Chronicles had a really great premise and conflict: a governess, hit upon one too many times by her employers, meets a determined bachelor with "special" children that need her care. Pape set Merrick and Caro up for a bang of a love story with great internal baggage. Their internal baggage, you'll come to learn, has everything to do with the steam punk world that they live in. Merrick is a Knight of The Order, an organization that fights against the otherworldly creatures that go bump in the night like vampyres and rogue wizards. Unbeknownst to Caro, her good looks and desirability have something to do with this world too. Merrick and Caro were both interesting leads, but after their introductions I never reconnected with them on an emotional, compassionate level. The reason why? I found the world building was lacking.

The rules of the world were just written down; told. They never came to life because they didn't complicate matters. Its brilliant that Caro is part fae and that's where all her drama of employers chasing her around comes from. Merrick isn't compelled by her fae-ness. In fact, fae are natural enemies of the Order. But this complication is dealt with quick and neat and everyone accepts it. Merrick, after trying to tamp down his feelings for Caro and his insistence on not marrying because of his dangerous job, one day wakes up and decides he'll marry her. And that's it. No angst. No tossing and turning over the decision. No confrontation with the Order of his choice of bride. Its just announced and done.

In her How to Revise Your Novel course, Holly Lisle tells us that "Worldbuilding is the process of creating a setting that interacts with your story, your characters, and your readers." Lisle insists, and I agree, that setting is not passive. Just like we're told to show not tell with the plotting, writers should be expected to do the same with the background of the story -especially if there's an element of the extraordinary.

Caro, the novice to this brave, new steam punk world, just accepted everything about the setting without question, which was not helpful to me as a reader trying to understand the scenery and customs. Her acceptance cast everything into an ordinary light, but I was left in the dark as to the workings of things.

Setting should also be unique, Lisle teaches. Unique things inspire awe.  When Caro's told of the creatures creeping in the night, the unique talents of the children she's charged with, the occupation of her new employer, and even the fantastical things she learns about her own background, she never bats an eyelash or asks a question or even doubts the veracity of the happenings. As a reader, I was woefully cheated out of delving deeper into the world because Caro never made a big deal out of the extraordinary things happening around her.

Lisle also tells her students that gimmicks of the setting should provide conflict by creating obstacles. Knights of the Order had magical ability. In one scene, Caro and Merrick happen into a brothel enhanced by magic. In one room, a sex spell has been cast that's causing group orgies. In another room, another spell has been cast that makes people feel lucky and they gamble. Caro and Merrick merely poke their heads in each room and duck out before any conflict can ensue. Missed opportunity here. We could have had the opportunity to understand how spells were cast, how they were broken, a bit of history about the magicks and its weak points, etc. But nope. Caro and Merrick dash out and head home safe, sound and with no complications.

I read another of Pape's steampunk books awhile back and loved it! She's a very talented and fun writer. I'm giving her a pass on this one based on my belief that sometimes the first book in a series, just like the pilot of a television show, sometimes misses the mark with all the heavy lifting it must to do introduce character, setting, and plot. There were great characters and an interesting plot here, but the setting (worldbuilding) was really lacking.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

TV BREAKDOWN: Scandal Pilot -Loosen Up Your Buttons Baby

Scandal: "Sweet Baby" written by Shonda Rhimes
Loosen Up Your Buttons Baby by Nakeesha J. Seneb

I think Shonda Rhimes, and her writing round table, are some of the most prolific storytellers of our times. Yes, I said prolific and I'm going to stand by such a big SAT word. Prolific actually means producing much fruit. I don't know about you, but I love fruit. I can't get enough of the juicy, sweet treats. That's exactly how I feel about Scandal.

Where most screenwriters are taught to button up their Acts, Rhimes plays fast and loose with that rule and goes so far as to button up her scenes. Like a period, exclamation point or question mark, a button is a punctuation mark at the end of an act, or in Rhimes' case, a scene. When we think about punctuation marks we most commonly think of, and use, the period. A period signifies the end; finality. You won't find many period-buttons in Rhimes' scripts. You'll most often find exclamation points, which indicate strong feelings and high volume. In fact, the exclamation point wasn't introduced until the 1970's, and then only in comic books to indicate a gun bang or punch!

Button Up Your Act
The pilot episode of Scandal is divided into five acts. Acts typically end at commercial breaks. The commercial break is a dangerous time for television writers because the audience now has a choice of getting up to use the facilities, grab a snack, or worse, turn the channel. If you study the end of each act in Scandal (or Grey's Anatomy or Private Practice), Rhimes buttons up each act-end by raising the stakes before the commercial breaks. The punctuation marks she places at each break serves to keep her audience pinned in their seats. Let's take a look at the structure of Scandal's pilot episode, "Sweet Baby." Here's a link to Rhimes' original draft script.

In "Sweet Baby," Act One ends with a murder suspect walking into the office with blood literally on his hands. Act Two sees that murder investigation and raises us a POTUS (President of the United States) embroiled in a sex scandal. In Act Three, Olivia's conservative-soldier client, the alleged murderer, gets arrested because he refuses to be "outted." By the end of Act Four, Olivia "handles" the POTUS's sex scandal by destroying the life of the President's accuser/mistress who then tries to kill herself. In the middle of Act Five is where we learn the biggest scandal of them all: that Olivia and the President were having an affair. By the end of the show, the stakes are raised sky high when Olivia, feeling betrayed by her married ex-lover, takes the President's mistress on as a client. 

I strongly feel that these act ends are all exclamation points! They're also a lot to cover, so this breakdown will only focus on the first act. The first act of a television show is known as the setup. A setup has three goals: to be immediate, quick, and grab attention.

Act I Scene 1: Exclamation Button
The setup starts immediately with the first scene. We are introduced to  newcomer, Quinn, who's trying to escape an undesired blind date. Rhimes grabs our attention with witty dialogue delivered by attractive individuals. Quinn believes Harrison is her date –whom she wants to ditch. Harrison is nonplussed by her attempts, instead he seems amused. We want to see how this ends and then -surprise! It's not the man that every woman dreams of getting set up with. No, it's better. It's a dream job, and of course, every 21st century woman is going to jump at the chance of her dream job. Though Quinn doesn't shout out loud at the prospect of working for Olivia Pope, strong feelings are written all over her face at Harrison's offer. "I wanna be a gladiator in a suit," is said with wide eyes and quiet awe.

Act I Scene 2-4*: Dash Button
In the second scene, we meet the famous Olivia Pope, and her dashing rogue of a colleague, Stephen. We meet them in the midst of a deal about to go wrong. Olivia momentarily halts the conversation with Stephen about engagements to smooth over the dilemma of two Russian bad guys pointing pistols at each other. Olivia comes off as badass, uber-confident and smart. With the deal settled, she and Stephen take their "package" and continue their banter about his impending nuptials as though no one was just in mortal peril.

The scene starts with Olivia and Stephen--then there's a conflict, which is resolved--and the scene concludes with Olivia and Stephen continuing their banter. It's a set of dashes. "The dash is a handy device, informal and essentially playful, telling you that you're about to take off on a different tack but still in some way connected with the present course," instructs Lewis Thomas. The playfulness comes across in the scene as Olivia and Stephen leave the danger giggling over how much they love this job.

*Its divided as three scenes because of location. If you know Final Draft, or any screenwriting software, you'll understand. Scene 2: Olivia and Stephen are walking into the building. Scene 3: is the confrontation with the bad guys. Scene 4: Olivia and Stephen walk out of the building.

Act I Scene 5-7**: Exclamation Button/Act End
Scene 5 starts with Quinn, our novice, coming into the extraordinary world of Olivia Pope and Associates. Through her, we begin to learn the rules of this new world. Olivia's crew is introduced, along with their respective duties, and Quinn is quickly schooled that this is not a law firm but a firm of problem solvers. We learn the package Olivia negotiated for was a kidnapped baby who is promptly picked up by its diplomat parents.

The setup is complete by the end of Scene 5. Everything and everyone we need to know has been established. Now the story is about to get moving. A disabled, Iraq war hero appears in the office lobby with blood on his hands. "My girlfriend. She's dead," he says. "And the police think I killed her." In a comic book, the exclamation point follows the BANG! In this scene, the gun has already gone off and we are seeing the effects of the aftermath. Harrison turns to Quinn and says, "Welcome to Pope and Associates!"

**Scene 5: Quinn and Harrison are walking into the office. Scene 6: they enter the office with the others. Scene 7: they are in the lobby.

Early on in our grade school education, we are taught how to construct sentences in order to get our points across. Today most of our writing is peppered by the point of periods. Punctuation marks, like exclamation points, dashes, and even the ellipses, we’re told to use sparingly. Rhimes and her team pays no heed to that grammar lesson. Their characters shout it out, are elliptically coy, and dash off with our hearts. And it has paid off for them episode and episode again!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Sea of Tranquility -a Greteling of character

The Sea of Tranquility. Author: Katja Milly
A Gretel-ing of Character by Nakeesha J. Seneb

This is a Breakdown, not a Review so spoilers are inevitable.

I'm a student of plotting. I can talk to you at length about the Hero's Journey, Three Act Structure, the 9-point system, 15-point system. I can talk to you for hours about the sequencing of actions. Where I find myself lacking is when the hero or heroine's character drives the plot. Luckily, there's a plot system for that! In his book Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction Jeff Gerke outlines five phases in a character driven plot. They are, in order, the knot, the inciting event, the escalation, the moment of truth and the final state. In this breakdown I want to focus on the yin and yang moments of this method: the knot and the moment of truth.

The Knot
Gerke tells burgeoning authors that "the knot is the thing that is wrong with your character." Both Nastya and Josh are damaged by death. Nastya was "murdered;" Josh has systematically lost everyone in his family to the Reaper. Nastya's death is a spiritual (as well as physical) assault because its her dreams, her life's purpose that have been decimated. She can never be who she once was, and her resurrection is unpalatable to everyone in her family. Since Josh is marked by death nearly everyone gives him a free pass and a wide berth. The force field surrounding him is impenetrable and he aims to keep it that way so loss will never touch him again.

We know their knots but we don't know the details of their troubles. Its been drilled into my head that we need to get all the important details about the MCs upfront, before the first third of the work is done. We should know the important things (their motivations) before the inciting incident so we understand the characters reaction to the obstacles that get put in their way.

The first half of this book is spent slowly Gretel-ing out the details of their knots. Like the siblings of the grim fairytale, Millay leaves bread crumbs that we first examine slowly and then are racing ahead to find the next and then the next as though we're on a sugar rush from too much gingerbread. Its a twisted, delicious foreplay as Millay parcels out the details of Nastya's assault and decent into self-hatred. My heart ached and yearned and broke as I discovered Josh's backstory of loss. Millay takes 50% of the book to do this -maybe more. And though the details are Gretel-ed (and I credit Gretel because of course its the female who takes precautions with the directions) slow it felt like a high-speed chase by a witch on a broom because my heart pounded and I was literally at the edge of my seat gripping my eReader.

Moment of Truth
Josh's moment of truth is pretty straightforward. Josh admits to himself that he loves Nastya and he accepts the very real possibility of losing the damaged, self-destructive person that she is. You'd think Nastya's moment was when she finally comes face to face with her murderer, but I beg to disagree. Her moment came when she decided she didn't want to be date raped. She's been 'dead' for three years, but in that moment with an unwanted hand against her genitals and her panties yanked to her knees -that's when this character's knot unravels and she decides she wants to live.

Moments of truth are doors: choices. Nastya clearly sees what's behind door #1 where she'd actually embrace her made up Russian whore persona; or door #2 where she'd decide to fight for what's left of her life. That's what this story was truly about. Nastya deciding to live, deciding she was worth life. I love that I was mislead to think it was about revenge. I love that along the way I was distracted by themes of loss and worth, by the definitions of love and family. This is a book about what it means to be alive.

ARC courtesy of Net Galley.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

BOOK REVIEW "The Man Plan"-well planned love arc

The Man Plan Author: Elise Ackers
"A Well-Planned Love Arc" by Nakeesha J. Seneb

There are four elements to every love story that make up The Love Arc. First, we must start out with a man and woman (or any variation or number thereof in 21st century Earth) who have internal and/or external needs. Second, a problem arises that creates conflict between the two. Then as our hero and heroine try to solve this conflict their internal and external baggage gets in the way, creating wonderful tension down the path towards love. And finally, as they realize their love is once in a lifetime stuff, they find a way to claim their baggage and start their journey towards happily-ever-after together.

That's every romance novel in a nutshell.

The Man Plan followed this arc perfectly with a simple, yet quirky, plot; likeable, well-thought out characters; and well-written prose. Cora, our heroine, has recently lost her father and she's having trouble dealing with that loss (her internal baggage). She meets Matt, our hero, who has commitment issues because his family is seriously dysfunctional (his internal baggage). Christmas is fast approaching and Cora is determined to be in a pair-bond by that family-themed Holiday. So, she devises a Man Plan to achieve this goal.

Her Man Plan is truly inspired and all single gals should take note. From the flat tire in Daisy Dukes to her attempts at giving out her number at red lights using hand signals, Cora is on a mission to eradicate her single status. Matt, who's at first amused, comes to detest the plan (conflict), but his banged up, grinchy heart keeps his mouth shut and his hands to himself. Matt begins to monopolize all of Cora's time and throw wrenches into her Man Plan. But still, he can't man up even though he's coming to realize what he's feeling is indeed love. And for her part, Cora is terrified to trust Matt with her heart when she knows he has no clue what to do with it.

Ackers takes this simple, predictable plot and tells a sweet story. Cora and Matt's chemistry is a slow burn. There's no heavy loaded exposition where we learn each characters' entire life story in chapter one before the word "go." All backstory is woven in and appears when appropriate to the storyline -thank you Ms Ackers! Other than an intense, uncomfortable emotional in-burst at the top of the story; and an intense, uncomfortable emotional out-burst at the tail of the story, I thought this was a perfectly paced romance. But I have to say that I was quite taken aback at the Breakfast at Tiffany's style love scene. You know the scene: Holly Golightly and Paul hang up their masks and start kissing. Then fade to black and its the next morning. I think that must be Destiny Romance's style. I wanted something with a few more jalapenos!

ARC courtesy of Net Galley and Penguin Books Australia/Destiny Romance.

Monday, January 7, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "The Importance of Being Wicked" -Bartenders Need Foreplay Too

The Importance of Being Wicked Author: Victoria Alexander
"Bartenders Need Foreplay Too" by Nakeesha J. Seneb

Victoria Alexander has a great grasp of prose in her historical romance, "The Importance of Being Wicked." However the exposition left me feeling like an overworked bartender. You know the stereotype: someone gets drunk at a bar and winds up telling their whole life story to the bartender who won't remember any of the details. That's how I felt while reading the Prologue, which introduced Lord Stillwell, and Chapter One, which introduced Lady Garrett.

The purpose of an Exposition is to describe how the main characters got into the conflict, or catalyst, which they currently find themselves in. In my opinion, special attention should be paid to the word "currently." Backstory does not always (if ever) mean your character's whole life story. Readers and viewers meet your character in this moment when a particular problem has them in its clutches. Reading or hearing too far into the past can be overwhelming in the first couple of pages.

The Prologue sets up the catalyst that brings these two together. That catalyst is that Lord Stillwell's homestead has sustained major damage from a fire and he'll be in need of an architectural firm. I gleaned that Stillwell was devastated but hopeful as a result of this catastrophe, and that he was the responsible type and up to the challenge of the repair efforts. This story is written in 3rd POV, staying close to Stillwell. In the prologue, Stillwell's cousin Gray is introduced. A lot of writing focused on Gray, and Stillwell and Gray seemed very similar. So much that I often forgot who was speaking and had to reread. The two men talked about a lot of characters while out surveying the damage; a lot of characters who we had yet to encounter. Add that to a male lead and a male support who were very similar and it became overwhelming for me.

In Chapter One we meet the heroine, Lady Garrett, while she's at lunch with her sister who is prattling on as Lady Garrett details her entire backstory, her secrets, and her future motivations in internal monologue. Its very interesting that Lady Garrett is secretly a business women in a man's world. Its even more interesting that her prattling sister wants a divorce and Lady Garrett sanctions something so scandalous. But I had already lost interest by the time we learn all this near the end of Chapter One. There was no room left for foreplay or finding out anything new because Lady Garrett told me her whole life story and future endeavors, including hinting at her willingness to be seduced by the Hero. Even though the "cherry" hadn't been popped, as a reader I knew it was loose and that released a lot of potential dramatic tension.

I decided to give the story until the Lord and Lady met. I didn't have to wait long because that happens at the top of Chapter Two. Yet when these two characters came face to face, they read to me like two totally different people. Lady Garrett came off cold and distant "reminiscent of a governess that said, far louder than words, that this was a woman not to be trifled with," and Lord Stillwell turned his devastated, responsible eyes from his ruined property and was fixing her with a charming smile that labeled him a rake. Perhaps if the work had started with Chapter Two and I could have discovered these two and their backstory in action I would have maintained my buzz instead of acquiring a hangover.

ARC courtesy of